By: Blake Tollefson
As we approach another change in season, another change in fish patterns follows. Overlooking the Fall crappie bite is a mistake made by far too many anglers. Average temperatures are dropping, leaves are falling, and the crappies push towards thicker water.
Things Are Changing
The Fall months are typically characterized by two major changes in fish location.
In relatively small, natural lakes, crappies will hold tight to thick weedy cover for the majority of the summer. When the leaves start to fall and some of the shallow vegetation starts to die, crappies will often move towards deeper vegetation, or suspend along structure in mid depth ranges. At this time of year, a safe location to start your search will occur in depths of 15-25 feet, depending on the lake.
As the season progresses, crappies can often be located suspending over some of the deepest water in the lake. This is typically a great opportunity to get a head start on early winter locations for panfish. Late Fall searches typically cover depths of 20-40 feet of water. Focus primarily on areas with some sort of definitive difference (i.e. steep break, point, etc.). Think back to where you found them last year at first ice, as they are likely nearby.
Don’t shy away from deep wood as well throughout any part of the fall. Personal experience has shown that cribs and wood piles are usually a safe bet throughout the fall and winter months. Don’t completely overlook weed structure either, especially if it’s the right kind. Healthy weeds will always hold fish of some kind; and crappies are no exception.
Spot Lock and Drop It
Rely heavily on your electronics to find schools of fish. If you aren’t marking fish on your graph, don’t wet a line.
Once you locate the fish, anchoring or spot locking is often an effective way to stay on a school, especially when they are relating to specific structure. In these situations, it’s a perfect opportunity to break out the winter electronics. There’s some unique about vertical jigging under your ice flasher out of a boat.
What’s on the menu?
Vertical jigging tends to be king when targeting deeper fish. Opt for slightly larger baits than one would choose in the spring and summer. Top choices include larger plastics and hard baits. Hard baits, like Eurotackle’s 1/8 Z-Viber, allow an individual to fish quickly and pick off the most aggressive fish in the school. Alternating action between aggressive lifts, short jigging strokes, and occasional pauses is extremely effective.
If you’re marking fish that don’t want to commit to larger baits, try downsizing to micro sized baits. If they’ll eat them at first ice, you can be sure they’ll eat them in the Fall. Tungsten jigs tipped with small ice plastics are amongst the most effective. My personal choices come from Eurotackle’s line of micro finesse plastics, they include the Eurogrub and Original Bloodworm.
Drop shot methods also work well during this timeframe, as fish will typically suspend. A drop shot rig allows the user to fish suspended fish, while maintaining bottom contact.
Tools of the Trade
Rod choice is important throughout this time of year. Light to Medium Light power rods are effective for swinging heavier panfish baits. Make sure it has appropriate action and backbone to to keep fish pinned on their way up to the boat. Rod length really comes down to user preference, however, personal preference has always led me to shorter rods for vertical jigging applications, especially if you’re trying to rely on your electronics. If you’re fishing with micro stuff, there’s nothing wrong with bringing out your ice rods.
Don’t miss out on your opportunity to get a jump on those first ice locations. If you knew where they were, you’re more likely to know where they’ll be. Remember to fish fast, ditch the live bait, and don’t wet a line until you mark fish.